For four weeks, I am preaching on Old Testament Bible stories. This week is the story of Joseph in Egypt recorded in Genesis 41, 42, & 45. Preached on July 9, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
If anyone has a reason to believe that life is unjust and God seems completely absent, it is Joseph in the book of Genesis. Sure, he is his father, Jacob’s favorite of his 12 sons—the first son of his beloved wife, Rachel, but what did that get him? A technicolor rainbow coat, the which I like to call the first LGBTQ-friendly garment of the Bible—but that didn’t last long.
• Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him into slavery; with family like that, who needs enemies?
• He ends up with a good gig in Egypt, but Joseph is betrayed again by his boss, Potiphar’s wife. She tries to seduce Jospeh, and when he refuses, she falsely accuses him of advances toward her. Joseph ends up in jail
• While in jail, Joseph accurately interprets the dreams of two servants from Pharoah’s household, but the one who gets out of jail, forgets all about him.
• Imagine, having done nothing wrong—and in fact—having done a lot of things right—and still suffering unjustly
Life is harsh for Joseph—full of human betrayal and failings, causing him a great deal of misery and suffering. Life can feel that way sometimes—stacked against you through no fault of your own –one bad thing after another just piles up and you go from illness, to mishap, to a car breaking down, to grief over a loved one passing, and you feel like you are living in a smash up of disaster without a break. Worse, you wonder where God is, and why God feels so absent.
I imagine Joseph felt that way. No doubt he had his moments when he wondered when God was going to show up and help change his situation.
God does show up for Joseph, but it’s different for Joseph than for Abraham or Jacob or Moses—Abraham receives instructions directly, including angel visitors; Jacob wrestles God; Moses has direct conversations with God; but not Joseph.
Joseph experiences God differently. Maybe Joseph’s story takes up so many chapters in Genesis, (12 to be exact!) because he is more like the rest of us to whom God may not speak directly or visit with angels. The Joseph story tells us over and over again that God is there in all of Joseph’s circumstances—in the suffering and in the good times.
For Joseph God is a constant presence, working things out in the background according to God’s divine timing. God also uses Joseph’s gifts and skills to improve his situation and to be a blessing to others. God is not necessarily experienced as a feeling or a direction—but the constant presence that provides hope and strength that runs through everything. Let’s hear this in a little more detail:
When Jacob was brought to Egypt and he was sold to Potiphar and Genesis, Chapter 39 says, The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man and served in his Egyptian master’s household. His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made everything he did successful.
We hear God’s constant presence with Joseph, using his skills as a manager to make him successful.
While Joseph was in jail, God was with him: The end of Chapter 39 says 21 the LORD was with Joseph and remained loyal to him. He caused the jail’s commander to think highly of Joseph. The jail’s commander put all of the prisoners in the jail under Joseph’s supervision, and he was the one who determined everything that happened there.
Even in prison, we hear of God’s constant presence with Joseph, and working through his skills as a manager to improve his situation in the jail, and make things better for everyone.
Also while in jail, Joseph trusts in God’s presence with him when 2 prisoners have dreams. He says in chapter 40, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Describe your dreams to me.” He successfully interprets the dreams for the Pharoah’s cupbearer and chief baker making clear that God is present in his suffering.
Never does Joseph have an angel visitation, a direct conversation, a still small voice, a quiet moment away from the demands of jail management, a light of revelation—nothing supernatural. Just over and over—God is with him, God is with him, God is with him.
Yet, God’s presence cannot be separated from God’s agency or actions—God’s presence in Joseph’s life does move toward particular ends—not just to bring Joseph to a better place, but to use him to be a blessing to others.
Joseph blesses others repeatedly—in Potiphar’s home, for the jailer and the prisoners, with those who have strange dreams. God’s presence is like the hard drive of his life, always running in the background—offering strength and hope and presence, and securing he has what he needs in the future. It takes two more years of suffering in jail—since the cupbearer forgot about him—which is not Joseph’s preferred timing, but it did give him two more years of hard-core managerial experience!
When Joseph finally does receive an audience with the Pharoah as the one gifted with dream interpretation, he is now prepared for the bigger work God has called him to do. He is ready to save not only Egypt, but neighboring nations from famine, including his own brothers and father. What started out as a story of jealousy and evil, God ends as a story of blessing and salvation.
What humans intend for evil, God uses for good. [For those of you who did not know how the Israelites ended up in Egypt—this is how—Jacob and all of his sons and their families move there with all of their herds to survive the famine.]
Rabbi Zalman Stein who lived across the street from us in St. Louis was once asked the question why in Exodus did God say to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—why waste all that precious parchment and not just say, “I am the God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?” Rabbi Zalman responded, “because God develops an individual relationship with each one of them and therefore with each one of us.”
God has a different relationship with Joseph than he had with his ancestors and those who followed him. And God has a different relationship with you and me. Maybe it is similar to Joseph’s relationship, where God is not always a feeling or direct conversation—but a constant presence—like the hard drive of your life—always running in the background, offering strength and hope to keep you moving in divine order, through times of suffering and through times joy, and securing your eternal future.
How do we live in a harsh world? Joseph encourages us to pay attention to our individual experience of God’s presence in our life. How does God communicate strength, hope or love in your individual relationship with God? It may be through others, through nature, through prayer, through a deep conviction like Joseph.
Second, Joseph’s technicolor faith shows us that we are blessed to be a blessing—in both hardship and in happiness. With our new members today, we have a whole new set of gifts and talents and blessings joining our mission. Be open to their gift and new ideas, as they are open to yours.
I also invite you to choose one way to be a blessing to others this week with skills and gifts God has give you. Maybe you already have it scheduled. Maybe you can join us at the free breakfast this Saturday. Maybe you can join our member visitation team—we have 3 in rehab and several who receive home Communion. Maybe you can ask God for a new way to serve. Maybe you are recovering, and God has a new way for you to show gratitude and bless those who are supporting you. Maybe all you can do right now is hang on to the presence and strength of God and that’s okay.
Remember that in Joseph’s technicolor faith, what starts out as hardship and pain, God turns into life-saving good. Ask God for the eyes of Joseph to see what good the Lord is bringing out of your current situation as God uses YOU as a blessing in a life-giving that’s unfolding even now.
For four weeks, I am preaching on Old Testament Bible stories. This week is the story of Noah recorded in Genesis 6-9. Preached on July 2, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
In God’s sight, the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God saw that the earth was corrupt, because all creatures behaved corruptly on the earth. Genesis 6:11-12
People wonder how the bible is relevant for today. Yeah, I do not see how these verses relate to our time at all. Violence, corruption and evil. For millennia people have been trying to figure out the problem of evil, the scourge of corruption, and the pain of violence. What is God’s relationship to all this and to us? Does it work to wipe the slate clean and start over? How do we live faithfully in such a harsh world?
It turns out a flood story with an ark saving the animals is actually about 4,000 years old—the first story like this appeared in ancient Sumeria (now modern-day Iraq) about 2100 BCE. It was written cuneiform—the oldest known writing on stone tablets—even before Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Abraham, the father of our faith, who came from Ur in that general region must have been familiar with these flood myths and over the centuries, this story was adopted and adapted to fit the monotheistic Israelite God who revealed himself to Abraham and Sarah. The Noah’s Ark story, as we read it, came to life in about 1,000 BCE.
So yes, one thing you may not have learned in Sunday School is that the story of Noah’s Ark is a myth or a parable. This is how Lutherans study the Bible because we take the Bible far too seriously to take everything literally—the bible is a library—some history, some parable, hymns, poetry, letters and so on. Calling the Noah story a myth or a parable does NOT mean it’s untrue—it has a lot of human Truth in it, which is the very reason myths and parables are told. We just do not look to them for scientific or historical fact.
Jesus, who was historical, told lots of parables and we never wonder, who was the woman with 10 silver coins historically, and can we do an archeological dig of her house? Rather, we listen for the human truth about ourselves, our relationship to God, and how God calls us to live. This is how we listen to the Noah story—for the human truth about ourselves, our relationship with God, and how God calls us to live faithfully.
Which is why this myth, this bible story starts out by telling us the Truth—the truth which has been the same as it was in 4,000 BCE, 1,000 BCE, the day Jesus was crucified, and the same as it is today, July 2, 2023:
…the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. (Anyone read the headlines today?)
Earlier in chapter 6 it says that The Lord saw that humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth, regretted making humankind, and God was heartbroken.
We often think of the Noah story being about an angry, vengeful, God. Our image of the Old Testament God is one who comes in to punish with might, fire and brimstone, with a violence that surpasses humanity’s.
But Noah tells a different story. The early Israelites experienced from the very beginning, a God of relationship. The story of Noah begins with God suffering from a broken heart. A God who created something good and wonderful and experienced rejection of his love and goodness and relationship over and over and over again. Humans kept choosing rebellion and selfishness and greed and harm.
So, the Noah story begins with a sad God. A weeping God. Perhaps the creator of the universe, weeping from a broken heart, cries for 40 days and 40 nights—enough sadness to cover the whole earth. This opening of a heartbroken God, gives us the first clue that this myth is less about human evil and more about the character of God, less about the harshness of the world, and more about living in relationship with a broken-hearted God. So, what do we do then, with the destruction of all living things except those that are on the ark—Noah and his family and the animals saved two by two?
Here we need a little help from the original Hebrew text. Before the flood comes, human beings bring “corruption,” then the flood brings “destruction”—and both of these words, “corruption” and “destruction” come from the same root word in Hebrew.
This is true in other places in the Old Testament—in Jeremiah and Jonah for example, the same word is used both for the “evil” and for “punishment.”
The point is, that the punishment is the natural result of the crime. The teller of the story is trying to say that humans are punished not so much FOR our sins as BY our sins. God does not need to visit punishment for evil—it happens as the result of evil anyway.
In parenting, we call this “natural consequences.” In criminology we like to say, “don’t to the crime if you can’t do to the time.” Don’t make the choice if you are unwilling to live with the results. In folk wisdom we say, “what goes around comes around,” or “if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
Those with ears to hear let them hear our own Noah story happening today—melting glaciers, rising coastlines, warming temperatures, increased wildfires, more severe storms. These weather events are not God’s punishment, they are the natural consequence of our own collective behavior and uninhibited consumption, as God grieves.
We wonder why God allows evil in the world, and the God who made all creation good and continues to make love, good choices and a relationship with him available to us, might look at us and ask the same thing. Why do you allow violence and environmental destruction in the world? You keep making the same choices and expecting different results and blame me for the presence of evil and destruction?
In the Noah story, God discovers the answer after the flood: All human beings are fallible and fallen. In chapter 8:21 – God says, the ideas of the human mind are evil from their youth.
People will continue to bring corruption to the earth—the Israelites will make a golden calf, they will worship baal and other gods, they will turn away from the promises of God over and over and over again. Even the threat of war, and ecological destruction has not moved us to change our ways. But God is moved to change. It is God who changes in this story, not human beings. The story of Noah is about God’s character, not ours—ours has not changed in 4 millennia since the flood story first appeared.
God says, I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done. Genesis 9:12 …This is the symbol of the covenant that I am drawing up between me and you and every living thing with you, on behalf of every future generation. I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth.
God promises steadfast love, and relationship with us, no matter what. God will be faithful, not because of anything that human beings do, but because God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6).
Isaiah 54:9-10: Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
God returns to us in faithful love over and over and over again.
God still takes evil seriously by calling individuals into faithful relationship and to be blessing to others and a light to the nations. None of them perfect—like Noah in this story—who gets drunk when the whole ordeal is over. But this underscores the point of the whole story and in fact the whole Bible going forward—the God of Israel is a God of relationship—not perfection.
Noah was found to be faithful because he had a relationship with God. How do we remain faithful in harsh world? Noah shows us three things in his relationship with God: I invite you to pick one of these three things to work on this week:
1. Talking and listening to God—this means everything. Noah must have brought his anger, resentments and judgments to God, because they did no get lived out in harm to others. He was not living in violence like those around him.
2. By worshiping God. This is the first Noah does when he leaves the ark. You are here today and that’s wonderful—how might you worship God throughout the week in prayer or praise?
3. By being a care-taker of creation, which the Noah story models for us. There are so may ways to reduce our carbon footprint and take action for our climate in urging global cooperation, government action, and coorporate policy.
No matter how we fail, God will call us back into relationship. Over and over and over again.
Because the God whose heart breaks for a relationship with us finally enters into the waters himself — into the waters of a Mary’s womb; into the waters of the Jordan, and God floods the world with healing and love and power in Jesus. Ultimately, Jesus enters the watery depths of death to show once and for all that God is more powerful than any violence or evil humanity can muster—revealing that a relationship with us is secure for eternity.
Jesus comes to redeem us, over and over and over again every Sunday at this table. So come to the table and be nourished in your relationship with God for your faithful service in a world in need. We can’t do it without God, and God won’t do it without us.
It's startling every time I read it—this list of the disciples whom Jesus calls, and, amazingly, sends out to fulfill his mission. Let’s see, we’ve got Peter who denies him 3 times, and gets just about everything about the kingdom wrong; there’s Judas, who betrays Jesus, always looking to make a buck on the side. We’ve got James and John, with their fiery tempers, who love jockeying for power. Their fishermen’s muscles hide their insecurity. There’s Matthew, the tax collector who supports the Roman oppressor, and then there’s Simon at the opposite end of the spectrum, a Zealot, working for the rebellion to overthrow Rome. When he first heard about Jesus, Bartholomew questioned if anything good could come of out Nazareth. Thomas was stubborn, Andrew disappeared in Peter’s shadow, and one hopes that of the little we know of the others, someone had a level head and was not always shooting off at the mouth with their own plans and agenda. I have a hard time imagining it though. The glimpse the bible gives us, shows them all as so very…. Oh, what’s the word…. human… so very human.
Which is why it is so stunning to read verse 1 of chapter 10: Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them, and to cure every disease and every sickness. Really? These guys?
The last part of the instructions makes more sense—stick close to home while you’re trying this out—don’t make us look bad in front of other nations—the mission to the whole world comes later. No wonder the Gospel-writers mention that some women who traveled with them—someone had to keep these clowns in line!
But Jesus does give theses disciples his power to heal, and to bring liberation from whatever bound people up, be it demons, illness, leprosy, incapacity, addictions, or broken relationships. Why does he do this? Jesus wants to expand the good news of the kingdom and he needs more hands on deck: Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus could only be in one place at a time when he was in human form. To spread the healing and liberation of the kingdom, he needed “apostles” – who are the “sent ones” – on the move, with his power, to encounter and touch to those who were sick or in need.
And guess what? His disciples already knew what it was like to feel harassed and helpless—they felt this way themselves before Jesus came into their lives. The disciples were all harassed and helpless when Jesus called them to follow him. Their lives were not working any better than anyone else’s. They had been like sheep without a shepherd—
• struggling to make ends meet,
• feeling trapped under the weight of oppression,
• wrestling with their own demons and misery,
• experiencing uncontrolled emotions, destructive patterns of behavior and broken relationships.
This is why they are such human characters—because they knew what it felt like to be harassed and helpless and to receive Jesus’ compassion and healing. The disciples themselves had experienced Jesus’ healing and liberating power in their own heart and soul! This is what made them great apostles—they had a Jesus-story to tell already! It is why Peter did not want Jesus to die and became such a mess when he did. It is why James and John want the top position at Jesus’s right and left hands—they could not imagine life without Jesus. Each one of the disciples had an encounter with Jesus that changed them.
It did not make them perfect, but it did make them whole. It released them from shame. Their encounter with Jesus filled them with Jesus’ presence and power and love—enough to overflow into other people’s lives.
Jesus gave them something to share. They were a living example of what it looked like to go
• from harassed to healed;
• from helpless to helpful,
• from confused to clear-headed;
• from fiery to faithful.
For where the spirit of Jesus is, there is healing and liberation. Imagine these apostles going out in all their humanness, filled with Jesus’ spirit, to share their own Jesus-story of healing and liberation. Each one had their own story, making connections with the community in different ways.
Maybe James and John discovered the face of God in the children who climbed their big arms like a jungle gym. I imagine healing little ones became their special gift with kids running to them for piggyback rides as they brought Jesus’ healing and liberation to families like theirs.
Perhaps Peter, always full of bluster, saw the face of God in the elderly who also shared their wisdom as Peter and Andrew brought Jesus’ healing and liberation to widows and widowers. In their presence, Peter learned how to let Andrew shine.
Maybe Matthew saw the face of God in the poor whom he was called to heal and in so doing, made amends, like Zacchaeus, for the taxes he overcharged, and Jesus’ healing and liberation became multi-layered.
Perhaps Simon saw the face of God in fellow zealots injured by violent acts of rebellion, as he brought healing, liberation and a new way of life in the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed.
Maybe Thomas and Bartholomew saw the face of God in those who were outcast as the healing and liberation of Jesus worked through them to bring good things to lives that had been restored.
And what about you? The power of Jesus’s healing spirit resides in you. What is your Jesus-story? You are an apostle of Jesus Christ, sent to people who are harassed and in need of healing, who are hopeless and in need of the liberating love of Jesus.
People need to be freed from whatever oppresses, binds, or holds them back from wholeness. You have your own story of how your encounter with God in Jesus Christ has changed your life—how a worship service, or a person, a ministry, the people in this church, or how God showed up and shared the love of Jesus Christ with you and helped change your life. That is your Jesus-story. Part of being a disciple of Jesus is sharing your Jesus-story, your good news with someone who is harassed, helpless and hopeless to give them faith that God is with them, that Jesus loves them, that healing and freedom and wholeness are possible. Being open and noticing who Jesus wants you to serve and to heal--that is where we seek God’s face in discipleship.
And do not worry, for you are not called to be a disciple to everyone or every person you see or know—I know I am not! I learned early on that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. Over the years, people have told me to my face they do not like my energy, or they don’t think women should be pastors, or they hear me lead worship, and their like, I’m outta here.
Fine! (Ok, that was not my first reaction when I was younger!) Jesus has somebody else for you other than me. Why do you think Jesus called a wildly diverse group of disciples? Because each of them was going to reach different people. You have an opportunity to reach someone I will never reach, or never cross paths with.
I have discovered that God uses our experience and our story to help people who will relate to us. God keeps putting people with cancer in my path, particularly women with breast cancer—but not just them—and most of whom are not members of the church. I don’t talk with them because I am pastor—but because I am a disciple of Jesus. Jesus sends me to them and asks me to share love, and to be a witness of healing and liberation in the kingdom of heaven.
God has people to send you to—to share your story, to witness to how your life is changed because of your relationship with Jesus, to share the spirit and love of God that brings healing and freedom. God has someone who is ready and hoping for someone like you, that they can relate to with good news of God’s love.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to seek God’s face in discipleship. Who is God putting in your path that you are supposed to help, to encourage, to share your Jesus-story, to bless with healing love?
Ask God this week to show you who is this person God is sending you to? I do not know how they will show up—
• someone may call, and ask you to talk to a friend;
• someone in need may come right across your path,
• it may be a new conversation with someone you have known a long time,
• or it may happen some other way entirely.
• Pray for an open spirit and for God to let you know with whom you are called to be a witness.
If Jesus can grow the whole entire Christian church over the last 2,000 years starting out with this ragtag group of very human disciples, then surely Jesus can do much more than we can ever ask or imagine through the disciples of St. Luke’s Lutheran church!
When comedian and Actor Groucho Marx resigned from a club in New York he said “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.” I wonder if that’s what Matthew, the toll booth collector thought when Jesus came up to him and asked this sinner to follow him.
Matthew was not on the list of the town’s favorite people. He sat at a sheltered counting booth placed strategically near the road out of Galilee where fishermen would transport their catch, collecting fees for the Roman empire. The upcharges he exacted were his way of making a profit, no doubt a handsome livelihood, while also economically supporting Rome, Israel’s oppressor.
But, unlike Marx, Matthew jumped at the chance to follow this itinerant preacher healer—maybe he would have a chance to redeem himself. Matthew celebrated by throwing a party to show off his new best friend, Jesus, to all the other sinners. No one else would let them into their clubs, so they had to stick together. Imagine, a whole house full of tax collectors, prostitutes, people living out of wedlock, widows trying to get by, hustlers and sinners of one kind or another who were having a great time with the new miracle worker in their midst.
But the religious leaders? They did not want to be part of any club that would let tax collectors and sinners accepted as members. But, they could hear Jesus’ wisdom in his teaching; they could see Jesus’ power in his healing. They wanted to be in the Jesus’ club—could they convince him of stricter membership rules? They could not see God’s face in those who were so different from them.
Jesus responded to the religious leaders by saying he came to be with those in need of love, healing, and hope. Then he gave them a homework assignment. Study the book of Hosea, particularly chapter 6, verse 6. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. Or as we read in our Confession today, I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
In other words, in today's language:
• Your prayers and worship in here, don’t mean anything, if you cannot love people in need, or whom you judge, or who make you uncomfortable, out there.
• I desire mercy, not empty rituals; I desire steadfast love, not offerings to appease a guilty conscience. You must walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
Now the stage is set to discover who will join this all-inclusive club. Jesus begins to embody the very thing he asks of the religious leaders and the themes of the passage start reversing as we see people desperately seek God’s face in Jesus.
First a leader of the synagogue, a member of the group Jesus was essentially scolding for being exclusive, asks Jesus to come and heal his daughter who has died. This is no small ask—it is not a healing, it is a resurrection.
The leader of the synagogue reverses course from his colleagues—he breaks with peer pressure and skepticism. Out of desperation, as a father who adores his daughter, this synagogue leader begs Jesus to restore her to life. Quite suddenly, he is happy to be part of the Jesus club with all kinds of tax collectors and sinners if it might bring his daughter back to him.
When we begin to lose the one thing which is most precious to us, our time and energy for judging others, maintaining our status, and identifying our differences suddenly does not matter at all. This father and leader of the synagogue did not give one whit who’s house he had to go to find Jesus, nor who he was hanging out with, if he would just come and lay hands on his daughter who has ceased to breathe.
This religious leader now sees himself as just as needy as the rest of the outcasts. Maybe he is willing to be part of a club that would have him and the sinners, as members together. He can begin to see God’s face where he did not before.
What about Jesus? Given that he was just criticized by leaders of the synagogue, it would have been tempting for Jesus to rebuff him. But Jesus does not hold a grudge against the synagogue leader for not welcoming tax collectors and sinners into worship, for upholding the purity laws and rituals, for that was part of their job according to Leviticus.
No, Jesus responds immediately to this man’s pain. “For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” I have come to offer love and healing to those who are hurting and broken regardless of who they are. God desires mercy and steadfast love, and that is what Jesus shows this man of leadership and high standing. Jesus sees God’s face in this man’s pain.
Jesus gets up from the party at Matthew’s house, and then the second reversal happens: Jesus, who just called Matthew to follow Him, now becomes the follower. Jesus follows the leader of the synagogue to his home to show him mercy and steadfast love, comfort and hope, by bringing his daughter back to life. The Lord of All comes to serve.
The One who calls us all to follow him, in turn follows each one of us into our darkest valleys, into the shadow of death. Perhaps as the father walked with Jesus behind him, leading him to the bedside of his lifeless daughter, he could hear the words of Psalm 23 echoing in his mind, surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The girl grips Jesus’ hand and rises to new life. She see God’s face in the hand that grips hers.
There is one more reversal in this story. On the way to see the young girl, a woman with a hemorrhage for 12 years follows behind Jesus. She is just as desperate for healing as the man with the deceased daughter. Jesus does not even see the woman. But like the father, she trusts in Jesus’ divine power to heal –so much so that she believes there is a healing fountain in the fringe of his cloak. She does not even need to touch Jesus—she seeks God’s face in the fringe of his clothes! When she touched his garment, she was completely healed.
But it is against the Temple purity rules for Jesus to have this woman with the flow of blood touch him, or for Jesus to touch the hand of anyone who had died. This would normally make him unclean, but God’s steadfast love and mercy are at work here. So, instead of Jesus becoming unclean through these interactions, the movement is reversed: Jesus’ purity and cleanliness spreads to the woman and the girl, and his healing makes them whole.
The ritual restrictions disappear for everyone—that is grace! The Temple doors fling wide, the community opens its arms. It is like the Apostle Paul describes in 2nd Corinthians 5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
The community can see God’s face in those who were rejected who are now brought into the fold. That is why all the tax collectors and sinners—everyone is welcome in the club—even if you are not sure you want to come if we’ll have you—there’s no meritocracy, no hierarchy, no us or them, there’s just all of us together, whom God made, and Jesus loves and heals. No one is barred from seeking God’s face, not the arrogant or the unsure, not the sinner or the outcast. Everyone is washed clean by God’s steadfast love and mercy.
Your invitation today depends on where you are spiritually and this story reveals three responses of faith:
• The father comes at any cost and becomes part of a new community with those he formerly judged. Jesus invites you to seek God’s face in those who cause you who discomfort. The synagogue leader and father trusts in the Lord, the Good Shepherd who follows him into the valley of the shadow of death and brings healing. Jesus invites you to trust that our Lord not only leads you, but follows you with you goodness and mercy, even when the shadows lead you next to those who cause you discomfort.
• The girl clings to Jesus’ hand as she rises to new life. Jesus invites you today to cling to his hand when you are in a day of darkest trouble. He will not let you go, and will bring you to renewed life. She did nothing but cling and receive. Maybe today, all you can do is cling and receive. For Jesus that’s enough. Seek God’s face by clinging to Jesus.
• The woman with the flow of blood trusts in Jesus’ power that only the slightest touch is enough. Jesus invites you to bring one of your deepest needs, perhaps one you have not prayed about before, and seek God’s face for your healing. Trust that even the slightest turning toward to him, the smallest whisper for help will be heard.
After you receive Communion, you can come up the side steps to the altar or stand by the Baptismal font and ask for an individual prayer as you seek God’s face for whatever healing or wholeness in your own life. This morning we heard our VBS children sing with joy that God is with us when we are up, when we are down and when we turn around--so come before God with that same kind of trust and hope.
Image: Photo of Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ by Larry Wecsler, member of St. Luke's Lutheran Church